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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 4:52am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

[This post is an attempt to distill several years of listening notes on hundreds of versions of Playing in the Band into a historical survey of notable PITB jams in the post-retirement years. A lot of these facts and material were learned by reading posts here in the forum by LIA and others, I hope no one minds my repeating them, searches for "favorite playin" and "best playin" and similar will turn up a lot of my sources.]

Playing in the Band is the big jam tune that never ossified into a stable and static form. It was frequently played in all years after its introduction in 71, and showed a continual process of musical development and change almost all the way into 1995. It didn't become a rarity, shrink to a throwaway, get slotted into an ultra-specific place in the set, or lose its musical connection to the band's best years. I think the continued excellence and evolution of PITB is part of the foundation of the claim that the Grateful Dead didn't stop making dynamic, relevant, important music after 1974. The musical materials and approach evolved but the "feel" never went stale and the band never lost the ability to find the right groove and mood. LIA says he has a post mostly written about Playing, and I don't think I have much to add to the story of the preretirement years other than to bow down before the profusion of incredible versions from 72-74, ranging from the early "10 minutes of focused energy" to the later complex "sandwiches" and the 45 minute wall of sound version. These are the best versions of Playin' and others have listened more comprehensively. I will start my observations with the return to touring with Mickey Hart, and focus on performances I think are notable. There are many other good versions of PITB!

The June 76 jams have a definite feeling of readjustment. The musical connection to late 74 is very audible, but the two-drummer feel changes a lot. The idea of "quietness" starts to become a big theme, almost as much as energetic loudness was in mid 72! The version from 6/19/76 is a nice point of comparison, because it is a standalone set 1 closing version.


In 1977 a very distinctive approach to the core idea of a quiet jam was firmly in place. Jerry would often play his lines quite slowly at a very even quiet volume with a rhythmic pulse at odd angles to the groove of the drummers. My favorite from this year, and my favorite show from the popular month of May, is the beautiful PITB->Comes a Time->PITB sandwich from the Palladium on 5/4/77. The Terrapin->Playing combo is becoming very popular with the band. The post-Terrapin instrumental theme circles around a D, which is the opening chord of PITB, so the connection was natural.


During 1978 we start to hear an increasing use of a particular variety of Jerry's riffs that I like to call the "spinning" riff. Forms of this idea can be clearly heard all the way back in 1973, but it becomes increasingly dominant in his approach to the jam and especially during the early 80s, variations on it sometimes occupy about 50% of the time spent in the improv. A unique Playin-related jam is the 11/20/78 set opener without Bobby. For 1978, my favorite version is another huge sandwich with The Wheel in the middle, 2/3/78 at the Dane County Coliseum. This jam has a deep, dark feel, and the post-Wheel return is exquisitely teased and delayed. It was released as Dick's Picks 18, but here is a nice aud:


In 1979 Keith left the band, and simultaneously with Brent joining, a change was made to the arrangement of the jam: instead of shifting immediately into the minor/dorian mode, the band would spend a little while in the major/mixolydian mode with the song's introductory riff as an implicit theme (occasionally made explicit). During this period, the sequence Terrapin->Playin->Drums is very common. The later half of 79 sees a lot of very strong versions with a distinctive character. I think I saw a thread where it was described as "the Mothership descending". Road Trips V3 no. 1 12/28/79 has a great version, but my favorite is the Shakedown->Playin->Drums on 8/4/79, which is almost overwhelming. Brent's synth is obviously an important factor in this.


In 1980, it seems the band made a decision to reduce the lengths of the jams, but we also see more variety in sequencing. Everyone is aware of the famous sequences in 73/74 linking PITB and Uncle John's Band. This concept reappears only once during the post-retirement Keith era, on 5/19/77. On 5/15/80, released as "Go to Nassau" we find the return of the Playin->UJB sequence. You can hear it on this aud and it triggers an excited crowd reaction. For most of the rest of the 80s, pairings with UJB were somewhat rare, with UJB->Playin perhaps more common than the reverse. It wasn't until 1988 that "Playin in the John" became commonplace. I think that Playin->UJB actually had a feeling of specialness for the band, established by the famous 11/10/73, 11/17/73, 3/24/74 performances. The pairing did become a somewhat unwelcome cliche in the final years, but it would be a mistake to ignore the many fine versions. Many Playin->UJB sequences have 10+ minutes of exciting and open jamming.

My favorite from 1980 though is the version from the Fox on 11/30/80. We have moved away from the extended ultraquiet and contemplative feeling of the late 70s versions to the much faster early 80s conception. This version actually builds to an intensity that is reminiscent of the "boiling" feel of mid 72.


We can hear Bobby exploring new sounds and approaches and taking an assertive role in the jamming in 1981. A classic unique pairing from the famous shows at the Melkweg is set 2 opening with Playin->Hully Gully. More great Bobby can be heard on my favorite version of the year, where he plays some neat "birdcall" sounds and leads the jam into drums.


I have been focusing mostly on the "big" Playins, which often lead into drums. Another trend of the early 80s is using Playin in a manner reminiscent of the great complexly interwoven sets of the early 70s, with Playin and its jam and reprise appearing multiple times in a set to provide cohesion and the sense that its all just one big jam. 1982 shows this idea manifesting in some really wonderfully composed shows. Jerry's birthday show at the Zoo has always been a huge personal favorite of mine, with a long and well jammed Playin opening 2nd set and jamming into Iko, a Playin jam acting as a smooth link between Iko and Lost Sailor, and then another Playin jam into the reprise following Wheel out of space, which has a cool tempo-changing smooth segue into Black Peter. This 2nd set is the rare and semimythical case where every song transition really is continuous and musically sensible.


An even more unusual case study is 9/15/82 at Cap Centre, where Playin opens the 1st set and Playin jams are interwoven with several of the first set tunes, as well as acting as a link between Shakedown and Sailor in the second. Before leaving 82, I should mention 7/27/82 at Red Rocks where Bobby adds some awful improv vocals to the jam. Thankfully that never became a permanent feature of the song!

The sound and vibe of Playin continued to evolve. My choice version from the Meadowlands on 4/17/83 is another 15 minute version that goes into drums and features some haunting bell sounds and synth buzzes. By the way, I am generally very positive about the band and enjoy a lot of elements that others object to. Just to make sure nobody thinks I am uncritical, I would offer the performance on this evening of "Love the One You're With" featuring Steven Stills as an example of something I actively dislike and find unpleasant to hear.


One of the best and most famous shows from this year features a Playin that has some of my favorite jamming of the "spinning" riff. 10/15/83 Hartford is legendary for the incredibly tight Bob+Jerry space jam into St. Stephen, but the Playin also showcases Jerry's precise, rapid lines which keep appearing, spiraling away, then resurfacing, starting a bit after 7 minutes in and continuing almost incessantly for the next 4 minutes, and then a long elaborate transition into China Doll.

1984 is a year with a fairly poor reputation, but my favorite Playins from this year shows real growth and development. Phil and Jerry seem to be interacting more, and the music seems to move away from the standard musical territory of the previous few years. The quality of the listening and interaction between band members is really high in this version, and Kreutzmann seems to have rediscovered some fluid and assertive snare work.


Later in 84 some more important developments take place. For what I believe is the first time, the Playin' Reprise occurs on a different night than the main body of the song. The 10/11/84 and 10/12/84 Augusta shows are where this occurs. The 10/11/84 version is notable because it features a true aggressively wild meltdown, and I assume the sense that something unusually powerful had happened the night before contributed to the appearance of the reprise on the following night, which is a much better known show.

1985 is one of the band's more interesting but inconsistent years. 6/25/85 Blossom is a nice long jam into drums that features great 85 atmospherics, that 'buzzy' sound in garcia's guitar, an excellent psychedelic vibe from bob volume pedal 'whooshes', with an ending of the jam gradually getting more and more percussive as it moves towards the drums.


A nice version from late 85 is 11/21/85 at the Kaiser which is long and exploratory and has a quasi-reggae transition into a rare She Belongs to Me.

The first, pre-coma portion of 1986 is an unfortunate period of time in the band's history. I would say these are the weakest Playins prior to 1995. Post-coma, though, we have another interesting show at the Kaiser, 12/27/86, with Playin opener and playin transitional jams prior to the eventual reprise. Not incredibly transcendent, but worth hearing as the beginning of the process of steady post-coma improvement to the 89-91 peak:


I would say 87 represents a real turning point for the Playin jam. The early 80s versions, as excellent as they often are, do not seem to my ear to feature the same sort of detailed and responsive dialog between Jerry and Phil that define the band's best work. Sometimes Jerry seems overly obsessed with the "spinning" riff and keeps returning to it, preventing the jam from travelling very far. Post-coma, though, it sounds to me like Jerry starts listening to the band more, and Phil is also a lot more melodic and assertive in comparison to the early 80s. The 87 playins may not in general be ultralong or crazy, but they often sound beautiful and have great counterpoint between Jerry and Phil. One Playin that did develop at good length is 9/19/87 which shows how much playing at Madison Square Garden inspired them. I would say the band in this particular jam is playing at a group level even higher than they achieved in 1977. The last few minutes of the jam showcase a deep, "in the jungle" feel that was often heard in Playin jams over the following few years until Brent's death.


The newfound boldness and confidence continued to grow in spring of 88 with another great at the Kaiser with rolling drums and howling distortion, but the year 1988 has an obvious choice for the greatest Playin, the breakthrough version at Laguna Seca on 7/29/88. This standalone version features a completely over-the-top, take-no-prisoners, NOISE ASSAULT that dares comparison with 1974 for madness. I would say this is one of the most historically important versions that shows the band starting to challenge itself to really live up to their own history, to take up the gauntlet and storm the heavens once again.


When we think of Playin in 89 our minds are inevitably drawn towards the Dark Star/Playin shows on 10/9/89 and 10/16/89 which both showcase good listening and melodic playing. Since Dark Star is the focus of exploration though, the Playins have less craziness. The 12/27/89 version is more exciting if your tastes run toward the adventurous. This show is a good example of how Playing lurking in a commonplace looking setlist can conceal excitement, because this is a really amazing jam that goes completely outside and visits unique realms. I get chills from the last few minutes!


I unhesitatingly believe that 1990 is the Dead's best post-retirement year. I understand why some prefer 77 for polish and rockin dance-party feel, but I think the quality of the improvisation in 1990 is more ambitious and consistently better in terms of how well the band is listening to each other, during the final pair of Brent tours and the early Hornsby shows. Everyone should already be aware of the legendary concluding pair of MSG shows in fall of 1990 which feature Playin on 9/19/1990 and then Dark Star and the Playin reprise on 9/20/1990 (Road Trips v2 no. 1). The best Playin of 1990 though is the shocking timewarp of 12/30/90 in Oakland. This version is huge and it seems that Bruce found a way to trigger Phil and Jerry's memories of how the jam used to go in 1972, almost. Phil's autobiography has good words for the early Bruce period and he describes this New Year's run as "wonderful".


The spring and summer 91 tours continued at a very high level of groupmind. A fantastic pair of shows in Greensboro on 3/31/91 and 4/1/91 feature a long Playin->Dark Star Tease Jam->Drums on the first night, then Dark Star->Drums->Dark Star->Playin Reprise on the next. Choosing a pair of shows is cheating though, so my best of year award goes to the next week, 4/7/91 Orlando with an exquisitely well-jammed Crazy Fingers->Playin->UJB->Playin->Drums. This sequence is almost 73-worthy and includes some great psychedelic accordion in the predrums jam, which doesn't do a reprise but instead reaches a perfect quiet conclusion on the playin intro riff.


I agree with the conventional wisdom that 10/31/91 represents the end of the great late era. I disagree with the idea that there is nothing worth listening to from 92-95, however. I think the fact that 92 is a big drop-off, and quite a bit worse than 93, is why many people completely discount the final few years. The best playin' from 92 is the post-hiatus version from 12/16/92 on Dick's Picks 27.


1993 is an underrated year. At some point I want to write extensively about June of 1993, which has a lot of really exquisite guitar work from Garcia. The best Playin from this year, 5/26/93 Cal Expo (Road Trips v2 no. 4) has been famous from the moment it concluded as an incredibly adventurous journey where Jerry more or less goes berserk and drags the band through a large number of different jams mostly independent from the conventional Playin themes.


This famous psychedelic outburst is not a completely isolated event, however. In fact, the very next Playin, 6/6/93 Giants Stadium is also an important version with an immense jam, although it is marred by truly heinous Weir vocals, a blown bridge, and some technical issues at the start of the jam. Given how underappreciated 1993 is, I'd also like to recommend another great performance with Jerry using the controversial Cripe Lightning Bolt guitar. So far as I know this Playin is little known, but the jamming is just fierce.


1994 is widely regarded as mostly unlistenable. The combination of Jerry using Lightning Bolt with very little distortion and Healy being replaced by Cutler and Jerry's declining health produces an overall band sound few appreciate. There is a case to be made for certain aspects of 94, but Playin shows the decline - the pairing with UJB becomes even more expected and some versions sound weak and unfocused. Exciting things could occasionally happen even in generally weak shows, as 6/8/94 Cal Expo demonstrates. After some well-done delicate lines to begin, Jerry cranks up the distortion for several minutes of nice ominous and dramatic music and then a truly delicate transition into UJB.


Things really fall off the proverbial cliff for the band in 1995. It actually happens very suddenly, after the surprisingly strong fall 94 east coast tour. 10/19/94 is a good show, but 11/29/94 and after show that Jerry has suddenly declined. There was a lot of mediocrity in 1994, but nothing like Jerry's steadily increasing sheer inability to play guitar that we hear in most of 1995. The 5/19/95 Las Vegas Playin is worth hearing, though. I would say this jam, at the start of the band's final disastrous 3 months of touring, might be called a foreshadowing of the end in musical form. There is an audible dark fear and uncertainty that shapes the jam into some almost frightening soundscapes.


After this, let us be merciful and draw the curtain. The very last performance of Playing in the Band on 7/5/95 is a rare and final standalone version that can only be called a sad travesty due to Garcia's perhaps deliberately abysmal guitar work. This does not quite conclude the story I have been wanting to tell, though. I have deliberately omitted my favorite post-retirement version from the above list. This is already plenty long, so I will merely whisper a quote spoken by Master Yoda to Obi-Wan: "There is another."

This post was modified by bkidwell on 2011-05-19 11:52:53

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: May 19, 2011 3:56am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Wow! Five stars! This is really impressive, bk; it's going to take some time (and listening) to absorb it all. I'm sure lots of folks will appreciate the work you've put into exploring this topic and time period.

There's absolutely zip I can add, except for one teensy little diddly detail. Instead of "6/25/85 Cuyahoga," it makes more sense IMO to call it 6/25/85 Blossom. The show was at Blossom music center in Cuyahoga Falls outside of Cleveland (similar to Merriweather Post being in a kind of no-man's-land exurb of DC). "Cuyahoga" would mean, I guess, that the band played while balancing on the muck of the original Black Muddy River ... and while I don't have a super-detailed memory of the show, I think I'd have remembered that part :-)

Thanks so much for your wonderful contribution!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 4:54am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thanks for your help with the nomenclature, correction made. I'm glad that someone who was fortunate enough to be at some of these fine shows appreciates my perspective on what I hear from the tapes! Any observations you have about anything like the mood of the crowd when hearing Playing or favorite versions that aren't mentioned would be appreciated, I've tried to make sure I've heard a minimum 5-10 versions for each year, but I know there are more hidden treasure PITB jams.

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Poster: Dudley Dead Date: May 19, 2011 7:55am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Wonderful ! Having the patience to digest and analyze the whole long post-retirement period, and clarify the distinctive features in the evolution of this song is serious accomplishment . I have lately been a little off on the 88-90 period, but you remind me how great they could be, in any period . Post 80, I find the overall feel of the Band, just not the same . BUT, the highlights , as all these "Playings" you cite , can be very worthwhile . Even in the endgame period, there is much of interest, and and some great music also !
I also ditto LIA's comments about the rushed, marginalizing of the "song" parts ; and the sometimes perfunctory ,"ok now we have to do our Grateful Dead jam thing" feel you sometimes get .
Great work ! It will force me to listen a little more carefully, and gain more from it . Thank you !

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Poster: weironamissionfrombob Date: May 19, 2011 7:29am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

september 28 1976 at the Onogada war memorial in Syracuse,NY. This is one of my favorite PITB. It has that loose funkiness that 76 seems to have, for me this show has a great setlist and captures the feel for 76. The Playin' isnt that long but I feel it accomplishes something and beautifully finds its way into the wheel>S&D>comes a time>drums>eyes> a really good jam entilted (orange tango jam) on the Dicks Picks > dancin >playin reprise
Oh Yeah even though they took this show and one around the same time in Maryland, to make dicks picks 20 you can still get a great aud copy here


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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 7:41am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Definitely agree with you about the virtues of 76 and this performance! You could really write up a big post just about PITB in 1976. In addition to the show you mention, I like 6/10/76 Boston Music Hall and the other versions from June, and the NYE "Live at the Cow Palace" among others.

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Poster: weironamissionfrombob Date: May 19, 2011 8:09am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Oh man I love that show, my birthday is June 10th so I am biased toward that show, but one of the gems on it is the mission in the rain, they only played that like 4 times, one of my favorite tunes, and 6/10/76 is one of them, I have heard much stronger shows musically but there are some brilliant moments and a great feeling to that show

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Poster: weironamissionfrombob Date: May 19, 2011 7:39am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I know this is about post retirement years but I have to mention the under recognized playin' of 10-18-72 austin ( i think) Texas. That version definitely reached new musical spaces and reached a new level of intensity, it shows the possibilities that can be reached with a song like that

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Poster: Jim F Date: May 20, 2011 1:07am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I love these kinds of posts and threads. Thanks for putting this together.

I'm in the middle of 5/19/77's Playin due to the TDIH and all, so that's where my head is at right now in terms of post-hiatus Playin's. As much as I love those of 73+74 (while usually quite good performances, I'm actually usually not as excited about a lot of the more popular 72 versions), sometimes I specifically want to hear that 76/77 style. All-time favorite versions of mine include things like 2/26/77 and 3/19/77.

Anyway, I could stay up too late if I got into a Playin' discussion now, but I wanted to add that I would love for someone to put together a "Post-Garcia" list of Playin's. Or any song for that matter. Over the last 15 years most of us have all seen at least one or two Ratdog, Phil and Friends, The Other Ones/The Dead/Furthur, etc shows. But we don't really talk about them. I know so much "useless information" about GD history and performances, but so little of the post-GD stuff, which is like some mysterious, foreign territory.

Obviously there's the whole no-Jerry thing, but surely there's some pretty good versions that have been played in the last 15 years. One of the best Playin's I ever saw was a Phil and Friends version with Weir from 2001. I highly recommend all of this very noteworthy show to everyone, but for these purposes check out the opening Playin sandwich. Really fun stuff. But I won't rave about it, just give it a listen, maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't.


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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 20, 2011 6:49am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I hope the post-Garcia years eventually get their due recognition and study. It's been awhile since I got out to see anyone, but I have good memories of the Other Ones and Phil and Friends shows I saw. I'm enjoying listening to the show you linked.

I think one aspect of the later GD-related groups that makes study difficult is the amount of personnel churn. Just in relation to the story of PITB, I think during the original band's touring years you can hear steady change over time - but in the later situation where have so many different band members changing from year to year, there isn't an opportunity for that kind of continuity.

That said, I think post-95 performances are still relevant, and the full tale of "Playing in the Band" has to include them - after all, we include Mickey and the Hartbeats in the canon of shows.

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Poster: Jim F Date: May 20, 2011 11:40pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

That's exactly it, the post-95 years are most certainly relevant in my opinion. Too many people are too quick to discredit any Grateful Dead related music made by any member of the Grateful Dead at any point after 1995. It's almost like the "cool" thing to do, especially among the more veteran GD fans who saw concerts in whatever their heyday was.

I mean I don't always like a lot of the music, and I cannot think of much of it that can compare equally to my favorite GD shows from 1968, but I think people are too quick to hate on anything that happened after Jerry Garcia died. I mean Jerry Garcia was one musician, one great musician, who worked with a group of other musicians. They don't have to cease being musicians just because he died, and it doesn't mean they can't still perform good music.

Now I will also admit that it's VERY rare that I pull out some random Ratdog or The Dead show that I didn't attend over your average TDIH GD show from 1974 or something. I will often pull out recordings from modern-era concerts I've been to, especially as I'm a bit of a taper myself. But 9.99 times out of 10, I get much, MUCH more enjoyment out of almost any PLQ show in the 99-02 range than anything the GD did in their last couple of years. In fact, when it comes to Phil's groups (mostly the 99-02 era, I was utterly disappointed by the Jackie Greene era shows I saw), I am in that camp that feels that there are plenty of those exceptions where the music was actually BETTER than some GD music.

Same with Ratdog. I personally find just about any Weir solo effort from the 70's and 80's to be pretty lame (though I should not that I watched the "I Wanna Live In America" video the other day). But I saw Ratdog do some pretty cool shit in the early 2000's. My first exposure to Ratdog was the 3 piece I think it was, 96 or 97, and I wasn't that thrilled with them. But when I finally got around to seeing them on the first date of the "Evening Moods" tour in early 2001, and a few more times over the next couple of years, I thought they had improved by leaps and bounds. They were no Mickey and the Hartbeats, but I'd still rather listen to an inspired Ratdog show from the 2000's than the Grateful Dead in 1994.

Anyway, that is a good point that was made about there being such a constant change in lineups and bands over the years. That most definitely changes the whole idea of there being any continuity regarding the development and evolution of a song, in this case, Playing in the Band. The way I look at it is, at this point, it's not so much about one particular band evolving a song, it's more about many bands evolving the reportoire as a whole. We are at a point in time where these songs are still being performed and in a way developed by the people who actually wrote them. In another 15 years, this whole argument will be irrelevant, as the only people playing this music will be cover bands. I just hate to think that any of the music Phil Lesh or Bill Kreutzmann or Bob Weir made after Jerry Garcia died won't be considered valid.

It's certainly not the same argument to discuss the post-95 bands in relation to one-member changes within the actual Grateful Dead over the years, but there is a parallel in what was said about the band post-Pig or post-Brent, etc. I'll admit that I'm never going to be convinced that there was ever a Bobby Good Lovin or Lovelight that can hold a candle to a Pigpen version. So I can see how people can feel that anything played after Garcia died can't compare. But on another level, the band still played some pretty damn good music after Pig died, or Keith, Hell even after Brent died.

I dunno, I'm just rambling. I guess perspective is what it's all about, on many levels. As it is, I'm mainly talking here about listening back to recordings of live performances, not the actual experience of being a part of those performances. Discussing the "X-Factor" and all of that is just too subjective, both in terms of people's individual tastes, as well as things like the difference between the best version of such and such you SAW LIVE, and the best you've ever HEARD.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 21, 2011 12:31am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thanks for a really nice post. I have two main responses, which are actually somewhat contradictory!

One is that a lot of people have made a distinction between the shows as an in-the-moment experience, and the tapes as a document of that. This goes back a long way, and there have always been some Heads who say that the quality and experience of a show is a totally different thing than what can be heard on the tapes - some great shows have lousy tapes, and sometimes the tapes sound good even if the "vibe" wasn't there during the performance. There's an aesthetic perspective on improvised music which claims that it has to be experienced in real-time, that the moment of spontaneous creation is where the music lives and the recordings are just a "fossil" rather than the living, breathing thing.

The opposing reaction I have is what I mentioned before, that history has to sort it out. We are still part of the unfolding process, with too much emotional connection to events. A lot of people's lives were and are lived at shows and traveling to them, as reading a lot of "show reviews" which are actually "life anecdotes" demonstrates.

Some non-fans of anything the GD did think the music doesn't have lasting value and will be forgotten once touring and show culture passes out of living memory. I'm in the opposite camp, I think the GD and its members have earned a place in the musical pantheon alongside the 19th century Germans while most late 20th century popular music will be forgotten.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: May 21, 2011 9:24am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

One issue is the sheer volume of music... To get up to speed with all these bands, it's not like there's a few "albums" you can listen to, like with most bands....no, there's years' worth of many very long shows. Yes, it would be nice if there were more reviews/guides/discussions of the post-Dead bands...heck, even Garcia band shows are mainly unmapped territory for many of us! But I barely have time to cope with the full range of Dead shows, let alone their offshoots...

I agree that the Dead's music will be more highly regarded as time goes on. And while the experience of being at a Dead show was very important - it will, of course, fade away in importance as time goes on, showgoers get older, and more young people get into the Dead's music who never lived through the "culture" of the Dead. Already, the '60s band is more of a historic relic than a memory for most people. In time, the tapes will be all that's left, and they'll be judged on the the music alone, not the experience...
I wonder what internet discussions of the Dead will read like in 2050.....assuming anybody's posting on the 'internet' then....

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Poster: micah6vs8 Date: May 20, 2011 7:19am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I would have to disagree. The X factor is not involved after '95, but was in '68 w/ M&tHeatbeats.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 20, 2011 7:31am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Well, this is a can of worms topic, and from a personal subjective viewpoint I suppose I agree with you, but here's the thing:

Everyone seems to have a different date or definition for when the X factor went away, or when it was present. When a poster who I really respect like W. Tell says that he doesn't hear the X factor any more after Pigpen was gone, I respect and understand that. Some people say 77, some people say 81, some people say it went away when Brent died, etc. I've seen the opinion advanced that some of later spinoffs were better than the last few years of the GD.

The real point I'm making is that study and scholarship may be inspired by the pursuit of the X factor, but can't be limited by it. A serious scholar of Shakespeare studies the minor plays as well as the masterpieces.

We sometimes see topics about Sugaree and Deal as performed by JGB vs. their performance with the GD. I personally don't hear any "X factor" in JGB music, because for me, it is Phil more than Jerry that triggers my Xperience in that regard. I still think that looking at material that overlaps between JGB and the Grateful Dead is a valid part of dead musicology, and the same goes for Phil & Friends, I think.

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Poster: micah6vs8 Date: May 20, 2011 7:48am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Ah, the rub. The day the music died, ended GD music for me. The Spinoffs are O.K. to awful, but I never listen to any of them. However, if it's more Lesh, less filling for you, I can see your point.
And most of these discussions have some degree of subjectivity. A can of worms indeed.

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Poster: bookends Date: May 19, 2011 6:18am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thanks for this. some great writing & insight.

And...there goes my Thursday!

I had to catch myself the other day, when I told my wife..."I was trying to finish a big project at work, but then I got sidetracked reading The Forum..."

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Poster: ColdRain108 Date: May 19, 2011 3:35pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

One I specifically remember from '85 that blew my socks off was:


It just went nuts at about the 9:30 point and continued for another 9 minutes. Brent was laying down those crazy diminished 7th licks that just led down the road of freak-out and everybody followed him - including me. I find this one to be similar to the 7/29/88 version (more of those Brent led Dim7th progressions) - which I absolutely LOVE. It was the first night of the Spring tour and it seemed they were saying "HELLO"!

This post was modified by Little Sense on 2011-05-19 22:35:33

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Poster: vapors Date: May 19, 2011 3:38am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thank you so much for your efforts and contributions to the forum - a most welcome addition to our roster of learned affiliates. Your balanced and thoughtful approach are greatly appreciated!

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Poster: micah6vs8 Date: May 20, 2011 6:55am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I think this might be the best long form post that I have read this year. I am still working my way through and it will be some time before I finish. So, I would like to thank-you before it moves too far away. I found your post to be engaging, concise and easy to follow. I have my little quibbles, be then don't we all. I started in the '90's (to the listenable ones), and found a gem in 5-26-93. I never listen to that year. Also, I agree with your take on PITB through the years. One of the core songs that never seemed to get stale. I have a feeling that in several years the last fifteen years will be looked at much more closely for the gems then up to now.


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Poster: snow_and_rain Date: May 19, 2011 7:59am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Awesome post! You can pretty much pick pre-hiatus PITBs at random, but you really need a guide for 1976 and on!

I'm going to cherry pick at these all day, but I started at 12/30/90, which is a monster indeed.

With that in mind, I'm going to recommend you give 9/7/90 a listen. It's Vince's first show and he actually sounds pretty tasteful throughout. Bruce hasn't arrived yet, so Garcia really steps it up and shreds.


This post was modified by snow_and_rain on 2011-05-19 14:59:09

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Poster: light into ashes Date: May 19, 2011 4:11am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Aha, a "long" post! And a good one. It's great to read about how the Playing jam developed through the later years. If anything, I thought this was kept rather brief....though when doing these kinds of posts, they always threaten to expand, as there's always more to say, more to include...
(As bkidwell hinted, I hope to be finishing my "pre-retirement" Playing post sometime in the next couple weeks, which I suppose is one reason he started in '76!)

A couple small quibbles:
There was one year they didn't play Playing - 1975! Not a surprising omission, but an unfortunate one; it would've been cool to hear a version from this year.
And, I think sometimes in these years Playing did "shrink to a throwaway" - much as sometimes happened with Eyes or the Other One, we often find it distilled down to a brief, hasty rendition, a brief stop on the way to Drums or the next tune. (I'd guess Dark Star would frequently have been treated the same way, had they been playing it through the '80s.) Playing in its early years was always a highlight of the show - later on, not always!
Though it's almost churlish to mention, I feel like Playing lost a certain indefinable something after '74, and there aren't many later renditions where they're really recapturing the 'deep' jam. Then again, this is also a matter of personal taste (perhaps just kvetching, "it doesn't sound like it used to!") since the playing style did change considerably. The calm, 'quiet' approach of '76/77 can make me impatient - and adjusting to Brent isn't the easiest thing for me! And then in the early '80s, as you say, Jerry spent a lot of time buzzing like a bumblebee, without necessarily heading anywhere.
Maybe one way I could put it is that they often sound like they're playing the ideas of notes, rather than the actual notes, if that makes sense - that some of the music is in the spaces they're leaving out. Not sure whether this is laziness or, when you've played something hundreds of times, you're more able to play it in 'hints' rather than hitting each note.
One part of the song, though, I think indisputably suffered in these years - it's painful to hear the band lunge impatiently through the verses, with Weir hoarsely bellowing out the words! It makes me miss the patient approach of the early '70s, especially in the reprises where they used to really draw out the climaxes... But anyway, that was history.

I wondered if you might discuss the effect Brent had on the Playing jam - you kind of elided this, mentioning how the arrangement changed a bit in '79 (which is actually one of the things I don't like about the 'new' Playing, how hesitant they can be to actually start the jam as they linger in the 'theme' mode) - but his assortment of strange sounds may have been one thing that kept Playing adventurous, or altered how the others approached it.

When you mentioned the revival of Playing>Uncle John in 1980, I had to think of 9/6/80, one of the most famous sandwiches (though perhaps not one of the most jammed-out). This sequence was actually pretty rare in the early '80s, though - I think there are more Playing>China Dolls! (Which is an interesting sequence in its own right, and one Jerry must have liked.)
It's kind of a marvel Playing went into any songs at this point, considering how frequently it was put in the pre-drums slot, when Jerry must have been getting anxious to take a break... (Many Playings therefore devolve into Bob/Brent jams as Jerry leaves early! Another one of my peeves.)

10/15/83 is my favorite Playing that I've heard from the '80s. That was a pretty good tour actually - and I agree that many of the 1984 jams have a surprisingly dark, dreamy feel. (They seem to have lightened up in '85!)
Your '86 pick was interesting, as the first part of the year is dismissed as "unfortunate" - but there's still this version, in which they take their time with the jam - suprising in a set that only has 2 predrums songs!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 5:28am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thanks LIA for your invariably perceptive comments. Most importantly, let me strenuously agree with your assertion that Playin lost something after 74, although I don't think its undefinable at all. What was lost was the genius of solo Billy K.

Bill Kreutzmann's performance in PITB during 72-74 is really one of the wonders of the musical universe. The rhythmic foundation in 1976 is radically simplified. From 72-74 Billy burns with searing blue flame in Playin, somehow unifying the innumerable variations of Jerry and Phil into a groove that moves forward like a rocket-powered shark. From 1976 on, a lot of the rhythm in PITB jams was just a pretty straightforward synchronized tap-tap-tap-tap, rather than Billy's continuously rolling sinuous groove with driving snare fills from the preretirement era.

I agree this was really a light summary! I didn't think pasting my listening notes on several hundred versions would really be very useful or interesting to anyone. The rather arbitrary decision to feature a single version per year and mention another as a subsidiary interest is just a standard way to try to give the material some shape and reduce it to a skeleton.

I agree 4/19/86 is notably long and takes a certain kind of very loose, spaced-out jamming to an extreme, but I think some of it is actually kind of bad. The first few minutes are good, but a lot of the rest comes uncomfortably close to me to fulfilling the negative stereotype of the Dead's jams as random notes and plonks and buzzes without any kind of musical direction.

I also acknowledge Bob's often forced singing. The actual singing part of the song is something I always more or less tune out, even for the best early 70s versions - Bob sings better, but Donna's yeaaaa-eeee-aaaa-yaaaahhh isn't usually a high point!

I'm a bit surprised 10/15/83 is your favorite 80s version - I agree its great, but I usually feel "the further and wilder the journey, the better" when it comes to PITB, so 7/29/88 and other versions that make the journey to atonal chaos and back or visit very distinctive spaces like 12/27/89 go a lot further for me in doing justice to the legacy of the 72-74 era, and I also hear a lot better interaction between Jerry and Phil in the late 80s. You recently quoted some of Phil's early 80s comments about people not listening and "playing ahead" rather than interacting in the jams, and as much as I love 10/15/83, I still hear Jerry following his fingers more than his ears, so to speak, in comparison to how things flow in 89. I haven't seen you comment extensively on what you think of the "MIDI era", I know a lot of people hear it as too artificial - but as I've mentioned previously, the MIDI space jams were the element that initially appealed to me as a classical music listener! I think the fact that most listeners approach the Grateful Dead from a musical perspective grounded in Rock & Roll is one of the reasons the quality of the midi era isn't apparent to all ears - I often hear more Debussy and Stravinsky and Copland in the 90s than I hear rock.

That brings me round to the topic of how Phil is actually the heart and soul of the band even more than Jerry, and how alive and inspired he was in the band's later years, but I can tell I'm wandering off-topic! Thanks again for the feedback.

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Poster: Dudley Dead Date: May 19, 2011 8:18am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

. I think the "Classical" part of their music ( often less overt, more in the musical process than in overt style ), is sometimes overlooked .
Being as much a Classical listener as Deadhead (I was a "Classical Buyer" at the Tower Records El Toro/Lake Forest location for 24 years), Phi is a real hero to me . In your discussion , you mention the Phil-Jerry playing post-coma . But Phil getting off his drinking problem, is sometimes overlooked factor in the improvement in this period . The more Phil was "in to it" , the better it was IMO .

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: May 19, 2011 9:31am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Not very familiar with post 85' output,but listened to every version between 80'-85' and found these to be outstanding performances.

1/13, 3/31, 9/2, 9/25
3/2, 5/4, 5/8,10/8
2/20, 4/14, 7/27, 8/7, 8/28, 9/12, 9/15,
3/25, 5/14, 6/18, 9/10, 10/21
6/9, 6/24, 7/7,
3/12, 4/13, 4/28, 9/2, 9/12

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 11:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Thanks a lot for sharing your recommendations. Some of those I am familiar with (or have in my notes at least!) but some I haven't heard - listening to 6/9/84 Cal Expo and really digging it right now!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: May 19, 2011 12:57pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I liked the 3/2/81 and 2/20/82 versions a lot, they were upbeat & engaging.
I noticed that from '81 on, Weir has a much more metallic guitar sound; not really to my taste, but it changes the flavor of the jam and he seems to step up a lot more with his slashes & reverb. By '84 some of those Playing jams are downright surly & aggressive.

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: May 19, 2011 11:13pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

I hear you LIA,Bob's 80's sound is fairly grating,Phil is drunk,Brent is annoying,Micky plods along,Jerry is in a creative and drug induced stupor,but Playin' somehow maintains it's dignity.It is in fact the only truly improvisational piece the band played over it's last 20 years.I hear moments of genuine discovery and interplay on some of those 80's versions that are unique and exciting,and while not on the level of the better versions of the 70's still stand as a testament to the bands ability to create high quality improvisational music.

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Poster: utopian Date: May 20, 2011 4:59pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

1-13-80 this is one of my favorite shows ever


One of my most visited shows. This one has it all for me and has
converted many to believe. The band is locked into a groove for this scorcher. Reminds me more of the heyday of fall 79 than the rest of 80 which seemed more homogenized and settled than the blistering fall 79 run.
Don't remember a hotter three song opener, seemed like they were trying to pack it into this shorter benefit show. Beautiful jack>franklins> minglewood. LL rain is as good as it gets, playin gets out there. Nfa is long and improvised with help from the guests.

Yea I just really love this one, thanx.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: May 19, 2011 7:38am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Playin: the Post-Retirement Years [long]

Good comment on the drumming change... Though I think the two-drums accompaniment in Playing is more varied than a tap-tap-tap, it's still often random pattering beats. For me anyway, there's a certain 'drag' in the sound of later Playings, partly from the different guitar/organ tones, partly from an increase in aimless noodling. A lot of Playings kind of stay at a low simmer without ever heating up....
That said, it's easy to over-exaggerate the differences between prehiatus & post-hiatus Playings - though the tones were different, they were often still wandering in the same zone. Jerry has a certain familiar "Playing" style just like he has an "Other One" style, etc, especially when he breaks out the wah-wah.

It's hard to say why I bonded with 10/15/83 so; after hearing it alongside a half-dozen other '83 Playings, it just seems to have a certain excitement and hypnotic charge in it, though it doesn't get into any big wildness. After more listening, I could find new favorites!
But I'm certainly no expert in '80s Playings - since I don't have much of a connection to those years, I distinguish less between the good jams and the random plonks & buzzes!
I rarely comment on the MIDI years because I cannot stand MIDI; the band's sound is just hard for me to take.

Anyway, I found a few more Playings from the early '80s I thought were fine versions:

(The '84 one I thought was an especially good example of a "dark & dreamy" '84 jam. Didn't check into '85, as I remember the Playings from that year being mostly disappointing...)

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 9:05am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: MIDI and sound-concept vs. reality

Before a few words on midi, I realized I should say something about Keith and Brent. One of the reasons I am less enthusiastic than some about the 77-78 years is how detached and formulaic Keith is. Piano is my instrument, and early Keith is a big part of why I like 72-74 even more than 68-70. Late Keith is either completely inaudible or more banal and repetitive than Welnick's worst. I completely agree with the contemporary perspective that 79 with Brent has more interesting jams than the average for the previous two years. Brent's keyboard style, sounds, and approach is another topic worthy of deep discussion. Too bad about most of his original songs, though...

Anyway, midi - I understand why the rather hard-edged and brittle/canned sound of the sampling synths used in the midi setups is objectionable to some ears, but to me this is analogous to the problem of recording quality of some early tapes. From an audiophile perspective, a show like 6/24/70 is severely flawed, and in comparison to a true acoustic symphony orchestra, the Grateful Dead's 88-95 synth sounds can be grating.

Just as ears can "hear through" the crowd noise and imperfections and perceive the white heat of 6/24/70, I think it is possible to "hear through" the technological limitations of the guitar synths to perceive the sonic idea the band was aiming for. I hear the Feedback jams of 1968 and the midi-spaces of the 90s to be aiming at the same musical ideal, a kind of cosmic sound-sculpting, a surrealistic orchestra.

I think from the band's perspective, the midi synths were a way to get closer to the sounds they had been trying to make all along! I think the ideal that each musician could, in theory, produce absolutely any sound they could imagine was the goal, and Feedback, Phil's amazing sonic effects with the Wall of Sound, and midi-controlled samples were all aspects of that dream.

From my perspective, all rock music has a rather harsh sound in comparison to a symphony orchestra or solo acoustic piano. A violin is a much subtler, more expressive instrument than the electric guitar - but this doesn't invalidate the excitement that electric instruments can generate! The dynamic, driving energy of a 68 Alligator->Caution wouldn't be improved by performance on flute and lute. Similarly, the freedom to explore a wider universe of timbres using synthesizers enabled the exploration of new musical territories. A Phil quote:

"The resulting timbral combinations, especially in the space segment of our show, began to border on the surreal. Bob would be playing some kind of wheezing calliope sound, Jerry a trumpet tone that was just a little askew, and my favorite was a flute sound that when played in the very low register virtually defined the term sub-contrabass piccolo."

Phil had always been inspired by composers like Charles Ives who would juxtapose two completely different pieces of music at the same time, and he dragged Jerry to Wagner's epic Ring Cycle in 1985, where brief melodies that represent the story of heroes and gods are interwoven across 4 nights - just like a multi-night Dead series. I am not trying to argue that any given way of hearing is right or wrong, but to my ears, the best of the midi-era Playins, Dark Stars, and Spaces are the closest in improvisational quality to music the band played in 73-74.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: May 19, 2011 11:00am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: from Keith to Brent

I thought I'd write up a few brief notes on one phase of Playing, from '78 to '80...

This is an example of an excellent mid-1978 Playing:
The band's pretty charged-up at this show, and there's a lot of variety in this version. Jerry's still using his drifting 'magical' wah style, and the band is driving and percussive. But they switch gears a few times, Jerry changing his tone & approach, so it's reminiscent of older Playings where the mood would keep shifting.

Jumping ahead, this is one of the best Playings of early '79, Keith's last shows:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1979-01-15.sbd.miller.102389.flac16 -
Keith stays in the background, as was his preference in the last year. The big change is Jerry - in early '79 he favored a constant flurry of fast notes, and in Playings of this period he basically stays in that mode throughout, so that it sounds kind of like a long Eyes outro (though there's also a little meltdown in this version).

Once Brent joined, the Playing jam changed its nature a bit. Playings from the rest of the year tend to be very slow, calm, and probing - although Jerry's noodling rapidly along, the band stays very restrained and laid-back. Brent mainly adds color; in his first year, he doesn't take the lead in the jams as much as Keith did in '71. The big events in these '79 Playings are the meltdowns they'd sometimes throw in at the ends, with Brent tossing his sci-fi sounds into the maelstrom.
Playings from this year also tend to be long, in the 20-minute range, and to my ears very monotonous - I admit this is not my favorite year for this tune, as 20 minutes of quiet noodling can be pretty dull, and it's hard to find a Playing I like very much!
Some of that may be the nature of the SBD tapes we have, as the band dynamics are not as apparent as on good AUD tapes. For instance, you get a better idea of the 8/4 Playing from the AUD than from the awful SBD tape:

12/28 is by far the best of the late '79 Playings, and in terms of energy seems to signal a shift toward the more energetic 1980 shows. As you said, they deliberately shortened the jams in 1980; the tradeoff was that their playing was punchier and more active. So 1980 Playings to my ears, though shorter, tend to be more interesting than the ones from '79. (Brent also starts stepping out more - ironically, he sometimes has a percussive-chord approach in these jams not much different from where Keith ended up!)
Some examples from the spring:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd80-03-31.senn.barbella.4741.sbeok.shnf http://www.archive.org/details/gd1980-05-04.aud.glassberg.motb-0037.96584.flac16

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Poster: Jim F Date: May 21, 2011 12:41am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: from Keith to Brent

Much agreed on 1/15/79, I never get tired of that jam. 11/6/79 is also a decent 79 version, from the early-Brent perspective.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: May 19, 2011 11:34am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: from Keith to Brent

I'm pretty much 100% agreed on everything you just wrote, thanks as always. In my notes for several late 79 versions is "does not justify its length" so we agree in general, but I think I enjoy the quiet hypnotic-trance feel more than you. When it works, I think it creates a really fascinating sense of floating weightlesness, but its like a soap bubble, it can pop and leave nothing but air and a slight sour taste!

I think one aspect I enjoy is the idea of really large scale composition over the years - if every PITB from 71-95 was quiet and hypnotic in the fashion of the late 70s, I would be very unhappy! I really like it as a "flavor" that is focused on just a few years, though. That applies even to, say, the superlative versions from Europe 72 - even though a random 82 Playin is weaker than a random 72, the process of change over the decade makes me glad, and I think the dead would be a less important and interesting band if the E72 sound and style had "frozen" and a late 80s show sounded identical to the ear.

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: May 19, 2011 10:54pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: from Keith to Brent

bkidwell,happy to share a quick list of versions that I enjoy,and thank you for the time and effort you put into the interesting and informative posts you have been sharing with the forum.

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